COP26 – Caribbean leaders call out inaction by large nations on Climate Change

Photo by Markus Spiske

Caribbean Heads of Government and regional technocrats have made forceful representations at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) being held in Scotland. 

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who was among a limited cadre of world leaders to address the opening plenary in Glasgow, delivered a stinging rebuke of inaction by large nations. 

“Do some leaders in this world believe that they can survive and thrive on their own? Have they not learned from the pandemic? Can there be peace and prosperity in one-third of the world that literally prospers, and the other two-thirds of the world live under siege and face calamitous threats to their well-being?” Mottley asked while referring to continued inaction as a “death sentence” for small states. 

Seemingly referring to China and Russia, Prime Minister Mottley called out those countries which are some of the biggest emitters of carbon globally, that opted not to attend COP26. She urged those present to “encircle” countries unwilling to act on emissions. 

Noting that the central banks of the wealthiest countries had spent US$25tn on quantitative easing over the last 13 years, Mottley called on large countries to step up in the financing of climate change mitigation. “Had we used that US$25tn to purchase bonds to finance the energy transition, or the transition of how we eat, or how we move in transport, we would now today be reaching that 1.5 degree limit that is so vital to us,” she argued. 

Trinbagonian Prime Minister Keith Rowley said that loss and damage are already clear in the aggressive erosion of coastlines and the bleaching of coral reefs. He stressed that “tackling loss and damage must remain a critical and core issue of any global climate action framework”. 

“We are increasingly concerned about our ability to address this issue given the well-known difficulty in accessing financing for such projects. We need funds like the Green Climate Fund to establish specific streams for loss and damage finance to ensure that this is prioritized in the same way as mitigation and adaptation,” Rowley admonished. 

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Chair of Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Gaston Browne has labelled COP26 as a public relations exercise, even as he acknowledged some benefits to the summit. 

“We also wanted to see increased scale of funding so that more monies would be made available to small island states and other developing countries to adapt and mitigate against the effects of climate change and even to have some form of mechanism for compensation for loss and damage. Those are among the objectives we had established going into the COP26, but unfortunately if you look beyond the incremental gains COP26 was merely a PR exercise, a great PR platform,” Browne said. 

While in Scotland, Prime Minister Browne also signed an agreement with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu which paves the way for ground-breaking climate change litigation before international courts. According to agreement, its signing offers “a novel legal path to address the severe damage to Small Island States caused by climate change”. It establishes a Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law which is authorised to seek advisory opinions from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea on the legal responsibility of States for carbon emissions, marine pollution, and rising sea levels. 

“Small Island States’ emission of greenhouse gases is negligible, but they bear the overwhelming burden of its catastrophic effects, including persistent destruction, repeated costs of rebuilding and huge debts to finance resilience. This injustice must end. We insist that those States most responsible for this dire situation respect their legal obligations to stop global warming and to provide compensation to its victims,” Browne said. 

Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis urged world leaders to show courage in the fight against climate change, warning that the world is running out of time to prevent disaster. “We in The Bahamas will do what we can, but the limits of what our nation’s effort can accomplish are stark: we cannot out-run your carbon emissions, we cannot out-run the hurricanes which are growing more powerful, and we cannot out-run rising sea levels, as our islands disappear beneath the seas,” Davis said. 

Meanwhile, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) took the opportunity to propose a resilience-adjusted Gross National Income (GNI) measure for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to access concessional finance. 

Speaking at COP26, CDB President Gene Leon said that the Recovery Duration Adjuster (RDA) is based on two key principles. Firstly, the incorporation of underlying structural weaknesses, high debt levels, and insufficient investment in resilient infrastructure as important inputs in determining the extent of a country’s vulnerability to exogenous shocks. And secondly, the duration of recovery from a shock which would provide a stronger justification for accessing concessional finance. 

Leon argued that conventional measures that utilise GNI per capita, do not capture this resilience drag (the longer duration of recovery experienced by SIDS) and can provide misleading signals about the health and stability of an economy which has implications for the overall cost of recovery and achievement of development goals and targets. 

“The RDA is therefore the means through which we can create a resilience-adjusted per capita income measure that will be a more comprehensive and equitable tool for classifying SIDS and mobilising much-needed financial resources” the CDB President stated. 

Away from the plenary sessions at COP26, Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Director General Didacus Jules, signed the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism. The Declaration calls for the acceleration of climate action in tourism by securing commitments to reduce emissions in the sector by at least 50% over the next ten years, and net zero emissions before 2050. 

“The OECS is one of the most dependent tourism regions in the world and the tourism sector is highly vulnerable to climate change. I am excited about this partnership and how it can help our tourism sector get aligned to the climate change agenda,” Jules said at the signing. 

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.